Wood is a versatile, durable, and warm material for kitchen countertops and other work surfaces. Depending on the look you want, wood countertops can be sleek and modern or natural and subdued. With its many finishes and grains, wood works beautifully into many interior design plans and can soften the feel of other materials such as metal and stone.
Wood countertops can be cut to fit any kitchen or other workspace indoors or out. The resilient surface helps protect dropped china, and minor damage to the wood is easily repaired.
Different types of wood are better suited to different types of work spaces. For kitchens, maple butcher block is ideal-it’s hard enough to stand up to cutting and chopping but not so hard that it’ll dull knives. And, any nicks and cuts only enhance its personality. The best butcher blocks are made from 4-inch-thick end-grain pieces connected parallel to one another with finger joints.
A butcher block can be installed into or around an existing countertop made from a different material. An unfinished butcher block needs to be sanded, filled, trimmed, and edged; however, finishing it yourself can save significantly over the purchase of a finished one. Butcher blocks can also be made from exotic woods such as teak, cherry, mahogany, and walnut, but, because they’re expensive, you want to treat them more delicately than you would maple.
For outdoor work surfaces such as potting or work benches, choose woods that resist insects and moisture; fir, cedar, redwood, and teak all fill the bill. If you’re planning on using a surface to serve food or handle edible plants, stay away from pre-treated wood and avoid using toxic chemicals to stain or seal it.
Soft woods such as poplar and pine should be kept to indoor use because they can become weather damaged. Lower-quality softwoods can be painted and sealed with varnish.
Wood does have some disadvantages. It’s not heatproof, so you’ll need trivets-either freestanding or built into the countertop-on which to rest hot pots and pans. If the wood is untreated, it will also absorb moisture, which will not only stain but also create a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. Regularly staining or oiling wood and cleaning it thoroughly after food preparation are the keys to maintaining a safe, beautiful kitchen countertop.
A lower maintenance countertop alternative to wood is Richlite, a composite product that’s nonporous and resembles wood. Richlite is made with paper-based fiber from sustainable hemp fields or forests and produces no hazardous waste during the manufacturing process, making it an eco-friendly option.
The biggest advantage to Richlite is its strength-it can extend out far past a support without sagging or snapping. For example, a 1-inch-thick piece can extend out 18 inches; the thicker the piece, the further it can extend. This stability makes Richlite an ideal material for countertops that incorporate an eating counter.
Richlite countertops come in a range of matte-finished colors that, like wood, will darken over time with exposure to natural light. It’s heat- and water-resistant and will resist stains if it receives regular applications of sealant.
Sharp objects can scratch Richlite, but, since it’s colored throughout, most marks are inconspicuous and can be buffed out. However, gouges can’t be repaired.
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